By Lori Saldaña
Imagine living next door to a dangerous, aggressive bully. Sometimes you can hear him outside in his yard, over the low fence that separates your property, fighting and scaring members of his own household. Sometimes you can hear them cry out in pain and fear when he attacks.
If you see him walking around the neighborhood you cross the street to avoid getting too close since you know how potentially dangerous he is.
Now imagine this bully attacks a member of your family- not once, but twice. He inflicts painful injuries that require over $1000 in medical bills that are not covered by insurance.
When you request compensation from the neighbors after the first attack, you are refused. You find an attorney to write a demand letter, and only then do they grudgingly pay the medical bills. But nothing will restore your peace of mind. You live in fear of another attack.
A few years later it happens again, under almost identical circumstances. Twice you have seen this bully viciously attack a defenseless member of your family before your eyes. This second time, you try intervene, and come within inches of being attacked yourself.
After this incident you have nightmares, so you decide to file a report with authorities to have the bully declared dangerous. The case goes to court, and you are told: they will only declare the bully “dangerous” if and when he actually kills someone.
Now imagine continuing living next door, waiting and wondering if there will be another attack, maybe this time resulting in a death.
That’s the situation I’m in. And I’m struggling with what to do, because the bully is not a person- he’s a large, aggressive pit bull. And the victim is my 12-year-old poodle, Yvette.
Like many pet owners, I consider my pets members of the family. I take Yvette with me to various places, on walks, and to dog-friendly businesses. But many of my efforts to socialize Yvette around other dogs have been destroyed by these attacks. I can no longer take her to dog parks- she is terrified when large dogs are running loose nearby.
This dog has attacked Yvette two times, requiring veterinarian care. After the first attack, the owners refused to pay for surgery that was required to manage an infection- a common occurrence, according to the vet who treated her and research I have done. I found an attorney who sent them a demand letter, advising them of their legal responsibilities. They finally paid for most (but not all) of the vet bills.
I also contacted the County Animal Services department but decided not to report the first attack. Our families have been neighbors for decades. This was, I hoped, a 1-time incident that would not be repeated.
But in December 2014, under almost identical circumstances, Yvette was attacked again. Their dog escaped from their owner’s control as we were walking past their house. Yvette was her on a leash, on the sidewalk. Their dog was at the gate with his owner, saw Yvette, broke away from the owner, and attacked her before I could pick her up.
When I finally did grab her, the dog leapt to attack her again, frightening both of us. Once again, she was bleeding from injuries. Once again, I found myself spending time and money at an emergency veterinarian office. Instead of going to a friend’s holiday party, I spent the evening looking for a pharmacy to fill a prescription for antibiotics.
This time, I had nightmares. I called County Animal Services to report the attack. I filed a report and met with a very kind and thorough Animal Services Officer. The report was submitted to the City Attorney’s office, and they scheduled a court hearing- but never notified me when it would occur.
By chance, I called the City Attorney’s office late in the afternoon, the day before the 8:30 am court date. By chance, I was not scheduled to work at that time. I decided to go downtown and attend the hearing. I waited for hours before the case was called, and at the last minute I convinced the Deputy City Attorney to withdraw the simple compensation offer. It would have only required another payment for medical bills, but done nothing to prevent future attacks.
I asked him to evaluate the severity and repetition of these attacks and come up with a way to PREVENT them from continuing. And then I waited, playing phone tag with the attorney and wondering what would happen next.
As I waited, a friend and fellow small-dog owner sent me a link to a local news report. (My friend’s dog had also been harassed by a large dog at a park near his home.) The report described how dogs had entered a yard in East County, and viciously attacked the neighbor’s dog- one much larger than Yvette. The injuries were horrendous. The dog barely survived.
It was painful to read the report, and I realized how fortunate I was that my Yvette had suffered relatively minor injuries. I can’t imagine how the other owner feels, having his dog go through such terror.
Also, it turns out the dogs in that attack are being “put down” because of the severity of the mauling, even though the dog lived. At this point I have to ask: Do I have to wait until my dog, or another dog, is killed before something will be done to protect her- and me- from more attacks?
What’s the value of requiring my neighbors to pay vet bills for my dog’s injuries, and do nothing to prevent more attacks? There seems to be a good chance of this happening again. My dog is 12 years old and weights 18 pounds. I live in fear she will not survive a 3rd attack by this younger, 70 pound dog.
A week after the initial hearing, I spoke to the Deputy City Attorney working on this case. He told me he has given this case a lot of thought. He also told me it doesn’t look like there’s much he can do. He can try to make reinforcing and raising the height of the backyard fence a condition of the owner’s probation. But the owner and defense attorney need to agree and stipulate to that, and there’s no guarantee of that happening.
Attempts to find an attorney to help me with this case have, so far, failed. Most don’t want to waste their time on such a small matter.
So I’m writing about this case, and making the details more public, in the hope of changing the laws and procedures related to attacks by large, aggressive dogs that owners cannot control. Unfortunately, rescue centers are full of dogs that are not properly trained or socialized. As more people continue to adopt large, aggressive dogs, laws and regulations need to keep pace with the reality of these attacks.
I want more people to be informed of their rights and responsibilities as pet owners. And I want the court and prosecutors to communicate better with owners of pets who are attacked, and at least speak with them before these cases go to court.
At minimum, victims need to be told when a court hearing is scheduled regarding their case.
Pet owners with dangerous dogs that repeatedly attack other dogs should not be able to simply pay medical bills and essentially buy their way out of problems. And owners of small, socialized dogs should not have to live in fear of repeated attacks.
I hope the County Supervisors, who are responsible for these regulations, are paying attention to these cases.
I hope the City Attorney’s office will respect the needs of victims, and take these cases more seriously.
But most importantly, I hope I never have to deal with the aftermath of another attack, one that Yvette may not survive.